Tuesday, December 27, 2005

New materials and technologies

As part of ARCHITECTURE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, AN INTRODUCTION, course by Antoine Picon, Harvard University.

Materials and a new way to define materiality

What is the situation in the field of technology?
There are a few reflections and the idea is that we are in the middle of a revolution regarding materials. This is somewhat true, for instance 'the microcapsule' and material research for architecture. We now design materials at the molecular level and then designing structures will be less important than designing material, e.g. the evolution of concrete. It became a material and is decomposed into properties such as: needs less water, less cracks, etc... For instance, la grande arche de la Defense would have been impossible without compact concrete. Concrete is now mixed and has mechanical properties, e.g. curve, etc... then it can be used for chairs. There is a redevelopment in furniture in concrete. It is not without danger because it can produce monsters :D and cannot be destroyed.

Ben Barrell beautiful bench

There is also 'glass' and the reflection on the glass using piezzo electric technology and the smart materials bluring between materials and structure, the development of composite and of smart materials which create a blur between materials and structures. There is a material revoluion, the first one was done at MASA then there is a contamination, however it has not reached architecture yet. At what level do we design today? Farbric can now be designed and there is a notion of new modernity which is not much about structure but more about material. There is then a current important question which is: how traditional design will position itself toward the material revolution?

Computer simulation
The computer simulation made possible a whole range of things: more computation, more domains. For instance, fireproofing. Before there was a big structure, an envelop to protect against fire. Now protection against fire is done dynamically. We then think of fire in a dynamic way, for instance what burns first and what burns last. This is a totally different design that takes in consideration the logic of collapse. For example, the 11th of September, the catastrophic tower collapse happened dynamically, so a protection against such catastrophes cannot be conceived as static anymore.
Computer simulation enables a lot but is not exactly the real world, so atomic tests are still needed, because no computer simulation can tell us how things edge and so on. Simulation raises a lot of questions imposed by the program and even color codes tell us how things are to be designed. The collapse of Roissy airport terminal was a good example of the limitations of computer simulation. There was a problem in the construction process that could be due to the computer simulation. The tradition simulation mode is still in use, e.g. the heat propagation in a building using a saline solution.

Structure and scale factor
If we look at suspension bridges for instance the Washington bridge of 1 km and the Golden Gate of 1km300 and that now we reach 2km bridges, the scale of structure creates problems. The gigantism does not prevent diversity, e.g. deck can be thick, or aerodynamic deck. However the gigantism has created a specific European type of answer and now that bridges can be 2km long, we need to take in consideration the curvation of the earth, because from the start to the end of the bridge the curvation is different. The cables of such bridges are huge as well and there is no limitation for suspension bridges. The cable state bridge is an obscession from European to
Japanese because of aesthetics and engineering issues. These bridge cables are wrapped in an aerodynamic shape to resist the wind.

Examples of cable bridges

Then towers will become higher and lighter themselves and the problem is not to pile up elements but more physiological elements, for instance, ear problems. Piano's genius to to consider that gigantism works if we pay attention on other problems than just structural problems, e.g. air condition mixing gradually with hot air using the curve of the building. Performance and large scale is a major problem on what happens today.
The relation between architecture and infrastructure: The architect provides the meaning to the node of the network. The architecture itself can become the infrastructure, for instance at an airport, system of place and infrastructure. There was two movements in the 20th century: gigantism and lightness (solution like their shell that are in plywood, etc.) This movement lead to membering. The most efficient surface; wooden structure, beautiful structure. There has been research on surfaces, plastic parts, wired network. Some are pretty thick but pretend lightness and lightness can go with gigantic things, a new poetry is then emerging. We are very far from this lightness idea at an international level, for instance China does not appropriate light structures. We are not ready to live in a world of membering, lightness, however if we use tension, we can do things much lighter and stable and it can function at any scale. This is the field of 'tensegrity', e.g. arch vault in tensegrity which is a pretty sophisticated geometry compared to other type of structures.

We can now do everything we want. Is everything what we want?
For instance, there are ethical problems even in engineering and architecture, and if we link a continent to an island, we change the way people live on the island. There is a moral responsibility of the architect, so how to build?
We thought we knew what to build, but now it involves discovering new materials, developing material and computation. Architects used to be asked to produce a form only and education in architecture is not adapted to this movement.

By Cati in architecture

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